A government plan to make prison inmates work 40-hour weeks to reduce boredom and reoffending is welcomed by ex-con turned Canterbury university criminologist Greg Newbold.
Professor Newbold, who in a much earlier life was jailed for drug dealing, says the idea of providing more working prisons is “a promising idea and signals a return towards the situation of prisons in the pre-1980s era when all inmates were expected to work”.
He says prison populations began to escalate in the 1980s and the costs of keeping prisoners in work became prohibitive.
“The problem with working prisons was that they tend to be expensive to run and were seldom economically viable.
“Most prisoners are unskilled and training them can be slow and costly.
“Expert training staff has to be employed, extra security has to be provided and the machinery and equipment needed to upskill prisoners can be expensive and require constant upgrading and maintenance."
Professor Newbold also says the products prisoners make cannot generally be sold on the open market because it is unfair for an unpaid labour force to compete with the industrial sector, “thus prison industries nearly always run at a loss”.
“However, if a significant number of prisoners could be trained for careers, put into work after release and diverted from lives of crime, the added costs could be money well spent.
“The idea of establishing more working prisons is a bold initiative and is certainly worth a try.”